Electoral units blaze diverse paths to vibrant consultation
Some unit conventions this past October serendipitously benefited from the presence of young people who were energized at the 2013 youth conferences and have been putting their skills to use in the field.
Irwin says she has viewed with alarm the aging of Bahá’í communities around her. So “seeing dynamic college students facilitate the convention with such confidence, leadership and efficiency was truly exciting and refreshing.”
When it was time for the consultation, she says, “several of the young adults stood up (probably a total of six or seven), with courage and confidence, and spoke eloquently about their experiences and activities. Their input was mature and valid.”
The unit is shaped like a letter “C” that starts in south-central Maine, wends through parts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts and ends in Boston. The coastal areas it skirts are in a different unit.
“We have traveled to Boston for convention in the past only to find few Bahá’ís from the Boston area. This year, the room was filled with youth from Boston who took a leadership role: shared stories from the youth conferences, participated on an equal level during consultation and taught us a neat song,” she recalls.
“They were eloquent about the topics covered at the conference and how helpful the small breakout groups there had been in allowing them to forge bonds of friendship, set goals and return to their communities on fire.
“We had videos put together by the friends, songs, a poem, live music, a puppet show, and more. It was really a celebration. And of course, to create these presentations, communities consulted together. In La Mesa, we brainstormed at one Nineteen Day Feast and practiced at the next.
“This year we didn't have anyone going off on a tangent or pushing an agenda,” he says. “This might have been a result of emphasizing at the start of the session that the goal was to determine what we as a group wanted to elevate to a national level.
“So, mostly the need was for sparking conversation and encouraging participation. I periodically both reiterated the goal of the session and invited contributions with questions like ‘What would we like the National Spiritual Assembly to focus on next year?’ or ‘What have we learned that National needs to know?’”
Topics discussed included the relationship between the Bahá’í community and the American Indian population; support and encouragement for artists; effective use of social media; and retention of young people. A youth authored one of the four recommendations that passed.
Consultation was flagging in Milwaukee, says Gary Kerns of Oak Creek, until an attendee suggested that each attendee pair with someone he or she didn’t already know and come up with a suggestion or recommendation.
Participants in this unit also paired “with someone they didn't know super well,” says Myra Grassfield of Holyoke, “to develop a question about a way in which they each could progress further in their work to build community.”
“In other words, there are calls coming into the cluster contact and that contact person is passing the seeker's info on to someone in the community, but the trail seems to stop there too often,” she explains.
“This resulted in a resolution on the part of several attendees to create a standard operating procedure for following up on the seeker response in a way that produces useful data to work with in the future.”
“Then we voted, by raising hands, on priorities, with the plan to consult on the top three,” says Moore. “That prioritizing process went very well because of the thoughtful and careful attention of the attendees, who pointed out overlaps and ways to consolidate the topics.”
And as it unfolded, he says, “there was a sense, and this was expressed explicitly, that we have the infrastructure in place with the core activities and the basic Bahá’í community functions to move forward with the plan,” he says.
And because of it, says Jennifer Doney of Ennis, Montana, participants left “with a great desire to delve into the study of the Universal House of Justice guidance of the Five Year Plan and expand our learning together.”
2. Focused consultation. The National Assembly’s letter was broken down into paragraphs, with questions relating each to the Five Year Plan goals and topics of recent Feast messages. Groups of five or six — including a Persian-speaking group — consulted on the letter and reported back to the convention. “Everyone was engaged, not just the vocal few,” says English.
3. Inclusion of Persian speakers. “The cluster Persian coordinator translated the invitation and led the Persian consultation group,” she says. “As a result, Persian-speaking Bahá’ís who had never before come to unit convention attended.”